dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Making Comes Before Greatness

December 9th, 2016 · No Comments

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What if we’ve been misunderstanding Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and what it means to his supporters? We’ve focused on “great” because we’ve become an adjectival people. We lack substance and avoid movement. Nouns and verbs require more commitment than a few selected superlatives.

We’ve wondered aloud when we last were great, how we lost our greatness, and how we’ll know when we’ve gotten it back. We also worry whether the guy in charge can give us more than a red hat, but maybe that’s selling him and his slogan short.

Maybe “Make America Great Again” and its almost-quaint precursor “Made in America” is less about jobs and income and more about pride and self-reliance. “Making” is maybe what matters most.

If America had more makers, according to the formula, there’d be fewer takers. But making what? That’s what we don’t know. To hear the president-elect’s trumpeted claims, there will be a few more cars made in North Carolina and a few more air conditioners made in Indiana. But that’s not a national strategy, as even his supporters admit.

It’s also not a solution that matches the problem. As many have pointed out, manufacturing jobs are being lost faster to automation than to offshoring. I grew up believing only the rich could buy boneless chicken breasts. We can thank some clever machinery for changing that.

Work will use more machines and fewer people and there’s nothing we can do about it. Once 3D printers become as common as microwaves, we’ll be making things at home that we always needed a manufacturer to do for us. That revolution is still a ways away, but there’s no doubt it’s coming — and probably sooner than most people think.

Manufacturing jobs created the middle class in America, but even if we can lure some of those jobs back, they won’t be staying for long. Our only hope in the long run is to invent more things for more people to do, and to give them the training to do them.

Making things gives people a deep sense of satisfaction. The roots of satisfaction push upward into stems of confidence, which can then flower into ambition. History has shown when Americans become ambitious, greatness takes care of itself.

So how can this or any other president get more Americans making more things? President Obama reportedly asked Apple’s Steve Jobs exactly that. The president got a rebuke more than an answer: “Those jobs are not coming back!”

Corporations have been unwilling to bring their profits back to America, much less their manufacturing jobs. Economic pressures to use inexpensive labor are simply too great for any political force to counteract. Faced with that reality, Trump has threatened tariffs and other penalties against companies that refuse his overtures.

Economists of every stripe warn that any trade war could collapse the world economy and spare no nation, including ours. But what if there were a way to entice manufacturers without bribing or threatening to punish them? We may have an opportunity here that no one could have predicted, using Trump’s unique skills.

Trump claims to have built many significant structures that are instantly recognizable around the world. In fact, his foremost achievement has been just one thing that he has undeniably built — his brand.

If our brander-in-chief made it one of his chief economic goals, he could revive “Made in America” and buy us the time to do what his slogan promised, without a trade war or corporate arm-twisting.

Rather than asking Apple to make their iPhones in America, Trump could ask that they make some of their iPhones here, but with two significant differences. The locally made phones would have an American flag embossed into the case, and the price would reflect its higher labor costs.

The challenge then would be on President Trump to convince Americans that the extra cost of locally sourced goods is worth the prestige that the consumer’s choice carries. Luxury brands have been built on less, and successfully so.

Will Americans pay more to keep their neighbors employed? If not, at least we will have learned that lesson.


Don Kahle ( blogs here.

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Give Us Winter, Eugene!

December 9th, 2016 · No Comments

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Eugene, you know I love you for your weather.

I was first attracted to the strong shoulders of your seasons. Each spring brings slow surprises, and fall seems to furl forever. Summer’s always better than we deserve and winters often flee before we know it. I chose you because you have more weather than any place else I know.

Who can scatter their showers better than you? Your summer squalls can cover half a block. Rainbows are never out of season here. I figure on most days, you give us three days’ worth of weather. That’s like living to be 100 before we hit middle age. And I’m not even counting the weather we ward away with umbrellas we carry but don’t use.

I love it when others complain about our weather. It keeps the secret hidden and the population down. Where else can people see you as a hero because you look good in gray? But lately, how can I put this gently? They’ve not been your best days.

Usually you’re better than this. When you’re cold, you’re clear; and when you’re wet, you’re warm. But several days in the past couple of weeks have been neither this nor that. Not quite cold and not quite rainy — and yet, too much of both.

Will it snow? Will it rain? Will it freeze? “Maybe” is a good answer only when it hasn’t happened yet. Too many days recently have earned a “maybe” after the fact. How did the steps get damp? Did I forget some layer that I should have worn?

Those few days have been not quite anything. Is that rain or is moisture condensing on me like a beer bottle in summer? Is that the sun, or did somebody spill some yellow that fell the wrong direction? It’s not quite clear. I don’t know where I stand.

I’ve never been good with the intermittent wiper settings of life. As a child, I wondered why anyone would ever use the “low” setting on a fan. Medium salsa always feels like a compromise. Sleeves can be sometimes rolled up and so they should.

Friends complain about your June gloom — those few days when summer gets shoved back into the future tense. Others dislike the teasingly summery days you drop into March most years. I tell them they don’t understand you, that you’re at your best when you keep everyone guessing.

But these recent days of “Meh” don’t keep people guessing. What do you say about a day that’s not quite anything? I’m content not knowing what weather you’ll bring today or tomorrow. Not knowing what we got yesterday is harder for me to take.

Kitchen blenders announce loudly that the indistinct is coming. These days have felt like life in a blender — but without the thunder. When everything’s a compromise, nobody ever gets what they want. We all want to feel like a winner, at least once in a while.

I love your winters best of all. The rain, the cold, the wind! I like them best when they come separately, I must admit. But then again, housebound has its own pleasures. I’d never read a book without your winter days. The crackle of a fire and the pelting rain outside make very good music together. Whip that wind and let it pour! Or whiten the noise and everything else with a blast of cold.

Nobody does snow days better than Eugene. We walk in the middle of the streets, daring cars to compete. We feel like post-industrial anarchists or wide-eyed children, wondering whether there’s a difference.

We love our snowpeople for more than their gender neutrality. We know they’ll outlast whatever blanket lies beneath them, asserting what was against whatever comes next. The here-and-now makes room for there-and-then. We remember best the lessons we learned too late. We’ve taught ourselves to mobilize against frigid nights. Thomas Egan, we remember you — even if we never knew you.

We’re ready for winter, Eugene. Give it to us, cold and hard. But save us from these middling days of nothing in particular.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Oregon Health Plan’s Future is Suddenly Uncertain

December 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

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Does the Oregon Health Plan have a price on its head? If the incoming administration’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services is approved, the OHP may have the boot of Rep. Tom Price on its neck. The Georgia congressman has hated Obamacare since the beginning. He may come to Oregon looking for a refund of the $1.9 billion the feds granted the state in 2012.

Oregon’s reputation for health care reform is unmatched. We chose an emergency room physician as our governor four times. During John Kitzhaber’s eight-year hiatus from the governor’s mansion, he continued thinking deeply about health care issues, building on the reforms he first championed when he was a state senator.

When Barack Obama was swept into the White House in 2009, many expected Kitzhaber to be tapped as some sort of health care czar. Obama had different ideas, and so did the former and future governor.

Where the Bush presidency used so-called policy czars to muscle changes on Capitol Hill, Obama preferred using states as incubators for innovation. The best and highest use of the federal government, Obama reasoned, was to define the metrics for success and provide resources for experimentation. States would then naturally learn from one another.

Once it was clear that Obama would make a priority of health care reform, Kitzhaber launched his campaign for a third term as governor. As a seasoned politician steeped in health care reform, his stature put Oregon at the front of the line. Oregon received nearly $2 billion from the feds to design Coordinated Care Organizations across the state.

Kitzhaber in 2012 called it the “final building block to creating a better model of care, and Oregon is ready to demonstrate how local communities can lead the nation in keeping people healthier over the long term in a more effective way.”

Obama’s White House coined a term for these innovation prizes given to states. “Race to the top” represented a deliberate rebuke to blind pursuit of economic efficiency. Who wants to be at the bottom so badly that they’ll race to get there?

But now that race may be canceled in the middle of the event, rained out by a new president who has his own affinity for czars. Will Oregon have to repay any of its Obamacare innovation funding? It’s too soon to know what will happen. But Oregon had better be ready for the worst.

Kitzhaber has returned to private life, for which he may be feel suddenly grateful. What comes next for the neediest among us could be heart-rending for the first responders.

It’s time to return to first principles. That may help move the conversation forward. Embedded in Obama’s “race to the top” model is a fundamental truth: Not every social problem can be solved by unfettered economics. Capitalism has its limits, and health care is where many of us meet them.

Capitalism posits that supply and demand self-regulate when pricing interference is removed. If supply is limited, the price will rise and demand will fall until a natural equilibrium is reached. But that “invisible hand” achieves no such balance when the demand is for a life-saving drug or dialysis treatments. Life itself is not a commodity in that way. Demand for it is limitless, so pricing must be controlled in other ways.

Price controls are inevitable. So are supply limits. “Death panels” notwithstanding, government cannot provide every drug and every procedure to every patient. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” fails here, too. Decisions must be made. The best we can hope is for rationing to be rational.

The Oregon Health Plan’s first and most profound innovation was to limit procedures with low success rates or for patients with other complications — including old age.

Rationing is being debated because universal access to health care is not. President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neil settled that issue when they crafted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) in 1986. Hospitals that accept any federal funds are not allowed to turn away patients.

As local civic leader Terry MacDonald once told me, “Until Americans are willing to step over the dead and dying on their sidewalks, we will always have some version of universal health care.” People go to the emergency room to get the care they need, which may be where physician Kitzhaber first thought, “There’s gotta be a better way.”

Don Kahle ( writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Here’s a Tip: Racism Has a Lawn History

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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University of Oregon President Michael Schill will have to balance justice and mercy by determining the fate — that is, the name henceforth — of Deady Hall. I favor mercy. Humility that comes with age.

Simply put, we’re never as smart as we think we are. It seems to every generation that history has stopped with them. We each learn too late that it didn’t. Allow me to speculate on just three common customs that may earn our descendants’ derision: tipping, lawns and bottled water.

Tipping became the norm in the United States only during prohibition. Restaurateurs struggled to survive without liquor profits. From desperation, owners shifted quickly from prohibiting employees from taking customers’ bribes for preferential treatment to requiring them to do exactly that.

When Oregon raised its minimum wage two decades ago, restaurant owners warned that it would widen the pay gap between tipped employees and the rest of their staff. One of our writers at the Comic News proposed that Oregon could remedy this problem by forbidding tipping statewide. A Portland newspaper wanted to reprint our modest proposal, but balked when the writer refused to shed her pseudonym.

Tipping is well loved — suspiciously so. Several chefs in New York City and a couple in other cities have experimented with a no-tipping policies. Customers have regularly complained or circumvented the policy. The experiments have failed in almost every case, and failed with the fury that befits a hidden shame. That shame may not remain hidden forever.

Matthew Deady may have had a “complicated” view of slavery, but we can’t imagine any gray areas around buying another human being. And yet, we feel perfectly comfortable renting the effort and attention of those who serve our restaurant meals in return for our uncertain benevolence. Likewise with those who cut our hair, tote our luggage, and deliver our pizza. Will later generations consider this cultural norm of tipping as slavery-lite? Don’t bet against it.

Lawns have a longer history, but not a happier one. Lush residential greenery may have led to the French Revolution. Countryside manors favored by 18th century elites required a small army of servants to maintain. Medieval serfdom had been slowly adapting to changing times. Workers were offered small plots of land on the outskirts of the manor, to be used for subsistence farming.

But then lawns became a status symbol of wanton wealth, leaving less land available for potatoes and vegetables. Servants were squeezed, but nothing could be done. The plush carpet of green became essential, even if it meant hunger for those given the job of maintaining those lawns.

Hunger has not yet been solved, and yet we keep our lawns. Most of the world wonders what we’re thinking. Our neighbor had a foreign exchange student from Asia who was further mystified by sprinklers. “You water the grass, so it will grow,” she asked, “so you can cut it?” It makes exactly that much sense. Someday, the world will see that our land and our water can be put to better use, leaving later generations to defend our relationship with grass to be “complicated.”

Except when we’re watering ourselves — there’s nothing complicated about that, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise. We buy bottled water because we believe it’s better. More precisely, we believe that we believe it’s better. Time and again, consumers cannot taste a difference between tap and bottled waters. And almost nobody enjoys better water than what EWEB and SUB conveys from the McKenzie River to our faucets.

Bottled water is essential in certain parts of the world, but not here. We all should keep a week’s supply in case of an emergency. But buying water in plastic bottles for daily use in Oregon will not age well. We should be embarrassed, but we’re not.

Our only hope will be if our children take our bad habits further, leaving us to look like moderates. Maybe they’ll use bottled water on their lawns, distributed by a struggling underclass whose labors are rewarded only with whatever their patrons are willing to tip.

Every generation sees the back of history’s hand too late for total redemption.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blog

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Election Result Has 101 Explanations

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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There are 101 explanations for last week’s election results. And here they are.

1. There’s no such thing as bad publicity

2. Bernie’s supporters stayed home

3. Rustbelt voters lost faith in government

4. Hillary was a bad campaigner

5. Hillary was a flawed candidate

6. Say “Cheese,” overlooked Wisconsin

7. Comey’s October surprise

8. Comey’s November non-surprise

9. Famous people get away with stuff

10. Trump kept his (tax) secrets hidden

11. Hillary had her (speech) secrets exposed

12. No secret is safe when “reply all” is an option

13. Tweets dominated entire news cycles

14. Coattails extended up-ballot for GOP

15. “Shy Bigots” evade pollsters

16. GOP timed ACA price increases to hit in October

17. Strong statements need only strength, not truth

18. Elites always will be outnumbered

19. Huge rallies generated headlines and enthusiasm

20. Policy papers and position statements did not

21. Last Dem to WH without control of Congress: Grover Cleveland (1884)

22. Primary season energized only one party

23. Leaked emails embarrassed only one party

24. Women didn’t see themselves in Hillary

25. Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves To Death”

26. Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort”

27. Trump’s populism shifted the political axis 90 degrees

28. Trump’s id out-performed Hillary’s superego

29. Hillary didn’t offer an inspiring vision

30. GOP had and used their better farm teams

31. Liberals have returned to cities, where they can be contained

32. Voter suppression efforts worked

33. Micro-targeting voters requires a conventional opponent

34. Americans love their reality TV heroes

35. Americans dislike all politicians, especially good ones

36. Electoral College favors rural states

37. A “strong man” promised governmental efficiency

38. Obama legitimized “strong man” governance

39. Voters took Trump seriously; the media did not

40. Media took Trump literally; the voters did not

41. Trump delivered ratings; media lapped them up

42. Voters equated experience with fame, preferring the latter

43. Voters seldom give one party 12 years in the White House

44. Obama’s “beer summit” started on race but ended on class

45. Talk radio shapes conversations and decision-making best

46. Anthony Weiner reminded voters of the worst Clinton moments

47. Brexit emboldened populism against conventional wisdom

48. Dems are a better minority party than obstructionist GOP

49. Voters were dumb and happy to pick entertainment over education

50. Long lines at voting sites discouraged working stiffs

51. The Clintons hid their best campaigner

52. Trump children seem OK, so maybe we’ll be OK too

53. Losing the Fairness Doctrine hurts only those who value fairness

54. Our leaders have abandoned discussing issues, so we have too

55. Nobody remembers Eisenhower, the last famous non-politician to run

56. J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”

57. Racial affinity helped the GOP twice — whites came out, blacks stayed home

58. This longest electoral season (64 days) favored the outrageous

59. Facebook kept voters in their bubbles of comfort

60. Male participation in the workforce is at its lowest rate since 1948

61. Fewer workers consider their jobs meaningful or satisfying

62. Dem ground game sent union members to convince envious neighbors

63. Culture warriors marched too quickly for those opposed or ambivalent

64. Demographic trends convinced whites this year would be their last chance

65. Trump’s TV persona seemed like a good fit for the Oval Office

66. Hillary’s private email server looked like Nixonian paranoia

67. Hillary wiping that server amplified that Nixonian paranoia

68. In the candidate’s own words, “What have you got to lose?”

69. Near-unanimous media disgust confirmed Trump’s outsider status

70. Voters don’t like being thrown into baskets or binders

71. And nobody likes to be called deplorable

72. Jon Stewart left too soon

73. Alec Baldwin was a bit too adorable

74. Baseball caps have never been more popular or effective

75. Russia may have helped in ways we don’t (nyet) know

76. The easiest way to vote “not-Trump” was to stay home

77. Fear of terrorism made the “strong man” offer appealing

78. Political correctness loomed larger than incorrectness

79. America requires transformational change every 75 years, so we were due

80. Voters rejected both Bush and Clinton dynasties

81. Pence’s talk radio roots delivered the Midwest

82. “House of Cards” and “Veep” replaced “West Wing”

83. Kaine was a too-safe VP choice, and his Spanish didn’t help

84. Forced to buy health insurance, Millennials were all “Meh”

85. Voters chose the risk of too much change over too little

86. Voters preferred the feckless party over the conniving one

87. Politics, press and punditry finally fused — and then exploded

88. When gas is two bucks a gallon, risks seem less risky

89. Being forced to change light bulbs was OK; doctors, not so much

90. GOP steps in only after Dems have cleaned up their last economic mess

91. One candidate upended both parties and their duopoly

92. “Hope” and “Change” never arrived, so voters picked “Change” — hopefully

93. Psychobabble about narcissism confirmed Midwesterners’ gut instincts

94. Trump just seemed to be enjoying himself more

95. Wanting it worse doesn’t win many votes

96. Nobody we know wears pant suits

97. America likes being chosen more than choosing

98. Fear moves faster than hope, but anger outpaces both

99. The wall offered a tangible solution to an intangible problem

100. Negative campaigns depress voter turnout asymmetrically

101. Chicago Cubs made the impossible seem possible


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Kesey Square Can Wait, Bishoff Baggage Can’t

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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Eugene City Council told the Friends of Ken Kesey Square they will have to wait a little longer. And so, Jerry Diethelm and others in support remain Friends of something that does not yet officially exist. Kesey would have liked that.

I was on this wagon before it had a band on it. I wrote a column almost exactly 13 years ago, just days after Peter Helzer’s statue had been dedicated, asking that the center of Eugene be renamed Ken Kesey Square. Just two sentences from that essay bear repeating: “Ken Kesey Square deserves to be at the center of Eugene for its oxymoronic value alone. Was there ever a man who more refused to be a square than Ken Kesey?”

The Council prudently decided to wait. They want to hear first from the Project for Public Spaces about how best to invest up to $5.2 million in urban renewal funds on improvements to make our downtown public spaces safer and more welcoming.

Circle a day on your calendar and let’s hope Valentines Day 2017 brings us some downtown solutions that everyone will love.

Meanwhile, there’s another naming opportunity that doesn’t need to wait. This is another tune I’ve trumpeted before. This one was published exactly eight years ago. (What is it about the third week of November that focuses the mind on naming things?)

The town should name something — anything! — after retired newspaperman Don Bishoff. Again, I’ll reprint only a sentence of what I wrote in 2008, for those who need their memory refreshed: “I think every traffic circle should be called ‘a bish’ — commemorating all the runarounds that Bishoff chronicled for all those years.”

William Tugman and Alton Baker both have parks named after them, befitting their enduring contributions as community leaders and editors of our daily newspaper. But as of yet, Bishoff has received no such recognition. The city has put in place some rules about not using people’s names before they die, but those rules have been bent before.

First names are used all the time, in case you wondered about Chad or Charnelton. One developer reversed his name, giving us Neslo Lane. We’ll be remembering Suzanne Arlie for generations, so why not Don Bishoff?

Celebrating Bishoff would be for the role he played in community conversations for decades. It would not be for his upstanding citizenry or his tidy desk, as he or anyone who knows him well would insist.

Here’s an opportunity. The Eugene Airport is finishing a remodeling and expansion effort that includes two brand new baggage carousels. They have numbers, not names, because what city names its luggage retrieval machinery? That could be us.

We’ll keep fighting for David Joyce’s “Flight Patterns” (a.k.a. Flying People) to be returned to the airport, but we don’t have to limit our whimsy to one beloved art installation. Naming the carousel for Bishoff hurts no one and benefits everyone who didn’t check their curiosity at the gate. They will feel at home here, even if their luggage gets lost, as Bishoff’s often did.

Bishoff himself might very well object if the city names anything but a 24/7 public bathroom after him, which was his stated preference when I asked him years ago. He might even lead a protest or two, shouting into a bullhorn that public funds were wasted on the plaque or that unionized labor should have installed it.

It used to not take much to get a rise out of the man, but those days are mostly over and many of us miss them. Except for reliable rants on Facebook, his opinions are heard now only by those who play golf or poker with him. Kids in his neighborhood may have heard how he feels about his lawn, but I cannot confirm that.

I can promise you it’s not because the Bishoff opinion factory has shut down — only that the loading dock for distribution no longer meets city code.

If we wait until after Bishoff dies, we won’t get to hear him grouse about it. Who among us would want to be denied his delicious denigrations?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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We Must Separate Our Power From Our Privilege

November 18th, 2016 · 3 Comments

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How can we better learn to separate privilege and power? That’s the lesson I’ve been trying to learn this week, and one of our local leaders has shown the way for all of us.

I wrote last week about Professor Nancy Shurtz, her blackfaced costume, and the strong feelings the incident provoked.

Many people are anxious and willing to talk about it, which was really my core request. Nick, a Comic News alumnus and stand-up comedian, summed it up neatly with a quote from either Billy Wilder or George Bernard Shaw: “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

Ben, a church friend of two decades, faulted me for not my admitted demographic blindness, but for using my privileged position to exhibit it: “You wrote about it in a very public forum, criticizing those who have expressed outrage, implicitly prioritizing [one person’s] experience over others’.” I guess I wasn’t funny enough — but not dead yet. Such is my privilege.

What I learned from dozens of (mostly kind, patient) responses is that African Americans have earned certain privileges, including the right to say, “Stop it.” We don’t use the n-word, because we’ve been asked not to. Blackface, as condescending caricature, is also deemed inappropriate.

I’d like to add one more loop to the current back-and-forth. Every privilege invites an abuse of the power that comes with it. Certain positions carry particular privileges. How can we acknowledge our own privilege, yet reserve the right to decline its attendant power?

Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns showed the way, in a story reported this week. He and his wife went away on vacation in September, leaving at the house their 20-year-old son. The son took that opportunity to host a couple of small parties with alcohol being served to minors. When Kerns returned home and heard about it, he called the police.

That may or not be what most Eugene parents would do, but that’s a topic for another Friday. Kerns did what his son understood he would do, with the consequences to follow determined by the court system.

Kerns could have kept this incident from becoming public in a myriad of ways. He could have not reported his son. He could have called a police officer to walk his son through the process without creating a formal record. He may have been able to enter into the official log an “accidental” misspelling. He could have asked a judge for a favor. He certainly could have refused to speak to a reporter.

If any of those options crossed his mind, his mind replied, “no, no, no, no, no and no.” He saw a teachable moment for his son, but it’s now one for us too. There’s deep comfort in knowing that our chief of police trusts the system enough to take his hands off the controls available to him. The system will work for his child as it should and as it must.

“Our kids know that if they make a mistake — get a traffic ticket or commit a crime — that it’s going to be totally their responsibility to deal with it,” he told Register-Guard reporter Jack Moran. “They know better than to expect that I would intercede in any way.”

Character-based leadership bubbles up and spreads organically. Chief Kerns made one phone call because he believed it was the right thing to do. People then hear about what he did — his children and his friends, his children’s friends, his neighborhood, his department, his community.

We may hope it eventually reaches a man downsizing into a new white house who has so much power and privilege that he could decide he can get by with less of each. It wouldn’t hurt to see such an example on Page One.

Refusing to exert whatever power accompanies our position or privilege — that’s the sort of leadership we need right now. Using privilege to shield yourself from criticism or attack may smooth a moment, but it makes the road ahead a little bit rockier for everyone.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Knitting Society Back Together Will Take Big Ideas

November 11th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Nothing predicts social upheaval better than a society’s percentage of disaffected young men. Revolutions occur when that muscle and moxie is underutilized. Washington’s new leaders would be wise to get ahead of the wave that swept them into power.

Many, many Americans — mostly married men — are anxious, angry, bored, or some combination of the three. And for good reason. There’s not enough meaningful work available that they are willing or able to do. It’s going to get worse, and they know it.

The percentage of men in the American workforce hasn’t been this low since 1948. Once driving and delivery jobs are automated, half our working-age men could be without jobs. Many of those who have jobs are feeling overworked and under-appreciated.

Homicides are killing urban black men at increasing rates, but not as fast as rural whites are killing themselves. Suicide rates in those areas have roughly doubled in the past 15 years, according to a Washington Post analysis. Life is getting harder.

College debt is crushing a generation. That first mortgage is becoming out of reach. Getting ahead is a dream that many have given up on. Life has become a slow slog, relieved briefly by occasional Netflix binges.

This country chose “hope and change” in 2008, but neither arrived across broad swaths of America. Whether President Obama failed or was foiled is for many a distinction without a difference. Then came along a candidate of lowered expectations, offering only change. Voters went for it — hopefully.

Desperation is difficult to admit, so pollsters and pundits failed to measure it accurately. From the privacy of voting booths across the country, desperation sent its message loud and clear.

Half-measures are no longer worth our full effort. Incremental change was rejected. The status quo has lost its status. A space has been opened for a big conversation — as big as Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation or FDR’s New Deal. As candidate Trump once said, “the shackles have been taken off.”

Donald Trump didn’t promise change so much as embody it. His lack of specifics provides plenty of leeway ahead. He’s not a Republican. He’s not a conservative. He’s not a politician. He’s a deal-maker. So let’s make a deal — bigly.

The time has come to reimagine what people are good for and best at. Only people who are satisfied with their lives will support the institutions that support those lives.

Productivity is no longer a reliable ground for human esteem, at least not in the strictly calculable sense. John Henry lost to Watson. Computers and robots make things faster and better. Our stuff is proliferating, but our satisfaction is not.

Women express less angst than men right now, because many of their chosen jobs defy automation. Teachers and nurses are not paid handsomely, but the future remains bright for professions that require empathy and nurturing.

Is there room in those fields for men who are being displaced? Certainly there could be, especially if much of the wealth created by automated production could be invested in society’s greater good. Retraining millions of men for more secure work won’t be easy or fast, but we’re running out of alternatives.

If every American was given a universal basic income, work and wage could be separated from sustenance and survival. Our welfare system could be dismantled. Nobody resents another person’s basic needs being met. The rage bubbles up when somebody does less but gets more.

Will that anger dissipate when everyone has enough? It’s worth a try. Work would become a means of self-expression, born of ambition instead of fear. Most UBI plans envision humans no longer having to work, but that invites other dangers of isolation and lethargy, so here’s a twist.

Instead of sending monthly UBI payments to the individuals, we should allow non-profit organizations to administer the payments in return for volunteer work. Everybody cares about something. This would connect them with others who share those same concerns.

When people feel connected to their communities by effort and skill, we can begin building a better future for everyone. Work should satisfy the soul; not crush it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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Blackface is Questionable, But Bullying is Wrong

November 11th, 2016 · No Comments

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University of Oregon law professor Nancy Shurtz ignited a firestorm because she wore blackface at a private Halloween party. No, that’s not quite accurate. Shurtz set the kindling beneath her. Someone else tossed the spark.

Anyone in the room could have asked her about Dr. Damon Tweedy, whose book she had recently enjoyed. Instead, one of the guests snapped a photo and shared it on social media. Flames ensued.

Shurtz has since apologized, but as far as I know, the guest who posted the photo has not. Shurtz has been placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation. The president of the university has condemned her costume, and petitions have been circulated calling for her dismissal.

It’s enough to make one long for the days when Eugene City Manager Jim Johnson forbade a Christmas tree in the Hult Center because of its religious connotation. We were a laughingstock around the country then, but nobody’s livelihood was at stake.

If and when Professor Shurtz returns to work, she will have to face 23 UO Law School faculty members, who urged her in a public letter to resign immediately. I’m guessing she will think twice before attending another costume party.

Every costume is a joke. “Look at me — I’m dressed up as somebody I’m not!” (Lady Diana never trick-or-treated as a princess.) But not every joke is funny.

Every joke teeters between what’s true and what’s not. There’s always risk involved, and not everyone will get every joke. In fact, if everyone gets it, it’s not really a joke at all.

We should all let the university’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity complete its investigation, but I can’t see that Shurtz is guilty of anything more than telling a joke that fell flat. Some thought her joke was unfunny. Others thought it was insensitive and outrageous, but that’s more of reflection on them than on her, especially if they didn’t sit down with her and talk about it. Her blackface was racial, but not racist.

Eugene has always struggled with taking itself too seriously, despite plenty of practice laughing at themselves. Where else can a man who calls himself Frog support himself by selling joke books?

What other university taught novel writing and then published the students’ collective work under a pseudonym? Ken Kesey arranged to have “Caverns” published under the name of O.U. Levon, which is “Novel UO” backwards — get it?

Emeritus professor Jerry Diethelm is currently gathering support for the Eugene City Council to formalize what has already happened without anyone’s permission. He wants Eugene’s downtown Broadway Plaza to be renamed Kesey Square, in spite of and because Kesey was never square. It’s all part of the joke.

I was part of a joke that is now enshrined in our own public library. To raise money and awareness for the new library, we staged a bidding war between the Comic News and Eugene’s S.L.U.G. Queens. We competed to secure the naming rights for a first floor bathroom. Where but in Eugene would public bathrooms get naming rights? (If you don’t know how that story ends, go to the library and see for yourself.) It was fun and it got people’s attention. Jokes are good for that.

I’m sure that Shurtz was hoping for some attention, but nothing like what has occurred over the past ten days. She’s been vilified, threatened, and bullied. If she was hoping to create a teachable moment, she got more than she bargained for.

The lesson has not been about the African American doctor and author. It’s become about us — how brittle and untrusting we’ve allowed ourselves to become. I’m sure a professor with three decades of experience would welcome any conversation to clear up any confusion, but others — including many of her colleagues and one anonymous photographer — rushed to judgement instead.

As a privileged white male who pulled a prank or two on this town and got away with it, I can’t ask everyone to lighten up. But is it too much to ask for people to sit down and talk together?


Don Kahle ( published the Comic News in Eugene from 1995 until 2005. He writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Endorsing Endorsements

November 4th, 2016 · No Comments

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A funny thing happened to me a few weeks ago at the United States Supreme Court. I didn’t laugh out loud, but almost. And as I have reflected on it, it points to an important experiment we’re all performing on each other. What the experiment proves definitely will be no laughing matter.

I make it a point to watch the opening session of each Supreme Court term. Some people circle their calendars for Opening Day of their favorite baseball team. I do that for the first Monday in October each year. It’s an unusual hobby, but I’m not alone. Graham Blackman-Harris has been doing this for 25 years. The task involves waiting in line beginning before dawn.

This year, those of us who were first in line were directed to take the worst seats on the edge of the audience gallery, behind a marble pillar that blocked our view of more than half the justices.

“It’s not right,” pleaded Blackman-Harris, “We’ve been standing in line since 4:30 this morning. I want to speak to your supervisor.” When it became clear that pursuing his objection could get him ejected from the courtroom, Blackman-Harris backed down. Seeing three justices was better than seeing none.

The woman seated in front of me and behind the same pillar, who also began standing in line before sunrise, leaned back and whispered to me, “This is SO going in my Yelp review!”

Why was her quip so funny to us? Because we are stuck between two models of maintaining social order. One is fading fast, but the other hasn’t yet taken hold. Blackman-Harris instinctively pursued the legacy model of top-down authority. The woman’s joke alluded to the crowdsourcing model of customer reviews that may someday take its place.

There are no Yelp reviews of the United States Supreme Court. Or of presidential candidates. Yet. We’re closer than you may think. Polling doesn’t differ all that much from the star ratings we give to movies and restaurants.

Everybody has an opinion about everything, and they are no longer as private as they once were. That may have been part of the reason that The (Portland) Oregonian did not endorse a presidential candidate this year.

“Our goal as an editorial board is to have an impact in our community,” wrote editorial board member Laura Gunderson “And we don’t think an endorsement for president would move the needle.”

I’m sure Gunderson knows there are no needles involved, moving or otherwise. Elections are described with these terms all the time, but the metaphor sums the awesome complexity of human interactions that shape a community.

Is Gunderson arguing that not a single conversation would be altered or enhanced by their newspaper’s articulated reasoning for backing one candidate over others? Is she saying those conversations will fail to change a single person’s behavior?

A newspaper’s endorsement may not change the electoral outcome, but their’ influence cannot be limited to final vote tallies. Civic leadership must not be reduced to tallies, gauges and needles — especially this year.

Newspapers across the country are abandoning this year’s Republican nominee, some for the first time in more than a century. Others are endorsing a candidate for the first time ever. The Atlantic magazine made only its third presidential endorsement since before the Civil War.

Donald Trump points to these endorsements as proof that the news media have conspired against him, and to some degree they have. The upheaval of social order he contemplates would threaten how political power is used and transferred in America.

The Oregonian also noted that they were granted no special access to the national candidates. Readers have the same information as the editors. True enough, but when information is practically limitless, the judgement of those who have the time and skill to sift through it all becomes more valuable, not less.

Newspaper endorsements and Yelp reviews are in this way similar. We’re all better off when they are used to begin and deepen conversations between friends and neighbors. If and when they shut off or replace those conversations, our real troubles will have begun.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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